Experience key weapon in All Blacks' armoury
If he was not the world's best fullback, Mils Muliaina probably would have become a used car salesman, as he certainly knows how to pitch a line. Listening to him, it is hard not to be convinced it is impossible to replace experience.
The All Blacks might have rugby union novice Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, but can they really do without 'old-timers' such as Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko and Muliaina in what is probably the best backline in world rugby?
'Money can't buy you experience,' the 30-year-old Muliaina (pictured) said. 'When the heat is on, it is experience that will count. While we have a few new faces around, we also have a squad with over 900 caps, and that is invaluable.'
To be exact, the 30-man All Black squad for Saturday boasts 972 caps. Muliaina and skipper Richie McCaw hold the most with 89 test appearances each. Then comes hooker Keven Mealamu (80), fly-half Carter (74), prop Tony Woodcock (69), and winger Rokocoko (66).
The six are the only survivors of two World Cups. Apart from all that experience, they also carry the weighty baggage of twin disappointments. So there is a flip side to being an All Blacks stalwart.
'I've been a part of the World Cup twice and yes it was disappointing for the pinnacle of any rugby player is winning a World Cup. This is the best thing a player can achieve. I hope we can do it next year,' Muliaina says.
The Waikato powerhouse back in Hong Kong for the first time since 2000, when as a novice, he appeared at the Hong Kong Sevens.
'I missed the first Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong in 2008 because my wife had our first child. I joined the squad later. I'm really looking forward to playing in Hong Kong,' he said. 'While everything has gone well for us this season and we are undefeated, we cannot afford to be complacent. Our focus is always on trying to improve our game.'
The All Blacks swept the Tri- Nations, winning all six games against South Africa and Australia. But as their most recent outing against the Wallabies, when they came from behind to win 23-22 in Sydney shows, the gap is closing.
'Collectively as a team there are a whole lot of things we can improve on. It's true that right now our mental fortitude is allowing us to come back and win games. But we have to stay sharp and focused.'
Muliaina backed new teammate Williams and said he was a 'great' addition to the backs. 'He has proven what he can do, and everyone is impressed with him. It is great to have him in the side.'
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said Williams would add an 'extra dimension' in the off-load situation in contact.
At the 2003 World Cup, Muliaina was used as a fullback before Henry switched him to centre in the 2007 campaign. There is no doubt where he will start next year.
'I enjoy playing at centre, but my preferred position right now is at fullback. I'm comfortable here. Personally my goal now is to be in the best possible shape so that I can compete for a World Cup place next year,' Muliaina said.
'But as a team, we have to remain focused. Australia are getting there and we have to keep improving.'
By their own high standards, the All Blacks had a disappointing season last year when South Africa won the Tri-Nations. Today, they are on a high, and Muliaina and company want to keep it that way for when the World Cup rolls around.